Science Fiction Studies

# 16 = Volume 5, Part 3 = November 1978

James W. Bittner

Persuading Us to Rejoice and Teaching Us How to Praise: Le Guin's Orsinian Tales

In 1951, the year Ursula Kroeber entered Columbia University to begin graduate work in French and Italian Renaissance literature, she invented an imaginary Central European country and wrote her first Orsinian tale.  The country's name--"Orsinia, or the Ten Provinces"--as well as its creator's name, have the same root:   orsino, Italian for "bearish," and Ursula, came from the Latin ursa.   Le Guin explains rather dryly that "it's my country so it bears my name."1

In the years after marrying Charles Le Guin on the winter solstice in Paris in 1953, she gradually abandoned her academic career to concentrate on writing.   By 1961, as she says in an autobiographical essay, she had completed five novels, four of them set in Orsinia, "as were the best short stories I had done."2  Yet when these novels and stories, classifiable as neither fantasy nor realism, were submitted to publishers like Knopf or Viking, or to magazines like Harper's, Cosmopolitan, or Redbook, they came back with the remark "this material seems remote."   It was remote, says Le Guin:

Searching for a technique of distancing, I had come upon this one.   Unfortunately it was not a technique used by anybody at the moment, it was not fashionable, it did not fit any of the categories.   You must either fit a category, or 'have a name,' to publish a book in America.   As the only way I was ever going to achieve Namehood was by writing, I was reduced to fitting a category.   Therefore my first efforts to write science fiction were motivated by a pretty distinct wish to get published.3

Orsinia did not go entirely unnoticed.   A poem and a story were published in little magazines in 1959 and 1961.4   But just as a couple of Le Guin's minor Orsinian pieces were appearing in print, she discovered Cordwainer Smith, rediscovered science fiction, which she had read as an adolescent, and, intent on getting published, started writing fantasy and science fiction for Fantastic and Amazing.   By 1963 she had begun her explorations of Earthsea and the Hainish worlds, and was on her way to Namehood.   Now, in 1979, of course, with numerous awards from both inside and outside science fiction, she has achieved Namehood:  twenty-five years after her Orsinian tales started collecting rejection slips, her Orsinian Tales (1976) received a nomination for the National Book Award for fiction.

I go into all this--the date of the earliest Orsinian tales, and their place vis a vis categories like "realism," "fantasy," and "science fiction"--to dispel the notion that Orsinian Tales is Le Guin's attempt to extend the range of her talents beyond the boundaries of fantasy and science fiction.  If anything, the opposite is the case.  Orsinian Tales includes chunks of the bedrock that lies beneath Le Guin's other imaginary countries and worlds.  Or, using another metaphor, I would suggest that a trip through Orsinia may lead us to those underground streams that nourish the imagination that created the Earthsea trilogy (1968-72), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and The Dispossessed (1974).

Relationships between Orsinian Tales and the rest of Le Guin's fiction will be one of my concerns here.  Some of these tales were written before Le Guin discovered-invented Earthsea and the Hainish worlds, some were written at the same time she was writing fantasy and science fiction, and they were all collected, arranged, and published after she had written the works that brought her Namehood.  We cannot, therefore, try to understand Orsinian Tales as a discrete stage or step in Le Guin's development, for the parts and the whole were composed at different times.  Accordingly, my approach will be eclectic.

In the first section below, I will treat the book as a whole, discussing Le Guin's synthesis of aesthetic and historical perspectives, and arguing that Le Guin's historical understanding is mediated by the literary form that structures most of her fiction, the circular journey or romance quest.  Then, I will look at the country Orsinia as an imaginary construct whose fluid boundaries enclose both fantasy and realism, and also as a paysage moralisé which manifests the same qualities we find in Le Guin's other imaginary landscapes.  In the final two sections, I will concentrate on "Imaginary Countries" and "An die Musik," two tales Le Guin wrote in 1960, before she turned to fantasy and science fiction, reading the first as the central tale in the collection, and the second as an early formulation of a problem that continues to be prominent throughout Le Guin's career, the conflict between her deep devotion to art and her strong commitment to ethical principles.

1. Orsinian Tales, Le Guin's second collection of short fiction, is radically different from her first.  In her "Foreword" to The Wind's Twelve Quarters, Le Guin explains that it is "what painters call a retrospective":  the stories are assembled in the order they were written to give us an overview of her artistic development.5  The tales in Orsinian Tales, however, are not arranged in order of their composition, so this is not another Le Guin retrospective.6  But if "retrospective" does not describe the collection, then another word from painting, "perspective," may indicate something about the nature of the tales and may help to reveal the ordering principles embedded in their arrangement.

After we finish reading any story, we step back from it as though we were stepping back from a painting, adjusting our vision to get an impression of its total design and meaning.  This is aesthetic perspective, the desired effect of any technique of distancing.  The distancing technique Le Guin uses in Orsinian Tales, the technique she developed in the fifties before she began writing for Amazing and Fantastic, is derived from Isak Dinesen's tales and from Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia.7  This technique does something more than create an aesthetic perspective; it creates a twofold perspective--aesthetic and historical.

Le Guin achieves aesthetic distance from her materials by writing tales, not stories (notwithstanding the publisher's dust jacket subtitle "A Collection of Stories").  Orsinian Tales does not belong in a class with Joyce's Dubliners and Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio; rather, its title recalls the tradition that includes Scott's Tales of My Landlord, Hearn's Tales Out of the East, Dunsany's A Dreamer's Tales, and Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales and Winter's Tales.  Le Guin's title is a clear echo of Dunsany's and Dinesen's titles.  A tale does not pretend to represent everyday reality as faithfully as a story does; more than a story, a tale calls attention to itself as a work of art, closed off from the world, and in its tendency to state a moral more overtly than a story usually does, it has affinities with fables, parables, and legends.  A tale offers a clearer understanding of the shape and action of the moral order we dimly perceive in our sometimes disordered daily experience, and it does this because it detaches itself from the contingencies of a particular time and place.  The discovery and delineation of moral laws, in fact, may be the most important goal of the teller of tales, and the pattern of those moral laws cannot be separated from the aesthetic forms which enable the artist to discover them and communicate them to others.  As ethical choices in our everyday lives are not free from history, those in a tale are bound by aesthetic forms.  A tale offers a perspective that combines aesthetics and ethics in a single vision.

Yet at the same time that Le Guin creates this aesthetic perspective, she negates it by regrounding her tales in history, seemingly contradicting, yet really complementing the ahistorical qualities of the tale with precise historical connections.  Le Guin sets her tales in an imaginary country, to be sure, but that country is in Mitteleuropa, not Faerie:  Orsinia is in the "sick heart" of modern Europe and knows at first hand what Mircea Eliade, a native of Romania, calls the "terror of history."8  Le Guin therefore evokes as the larger setting of her tales some of the darkest, most chaotic, and most violent history available.  Like Hardy's Wessex, Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, and Wright's Islandia, Le Guin's Orsinia may be imaginary, but it is profoundly affected by real historical forces.

At the end of each tale we discover a date; these dates, ranging from the early Middle Ages (1150) to the recent past (1965), locate each tale at a precise moment in Orsinia's (and Central Europe's) history, and invite us to step back from our involvement with a character's experiences, to insert those experiences in a definite historical context, and to understand them in a historical perspective.  It is significant that the the dates are at the end of each tale; they appear at the very moment we are stepping back from the tale to see aesthetically.  At that moment, history and aesthetics, two modes of seeing and knowing, become one.

The process of reading the eleven pieces in Orsinian Tales, then, is the process of forming and re-forming this two-fold aesthetic and historical perspective, progressively enlarging our understanding of the relationships among individual tales and deepening our understanding of the relationships between any one moment in the lives of individual Orsinians and the whole web of Orsinian history.  As we finish the collection, we realize that the two perspectives are not contradictory, but complementary; the one being the dialectical negation of the other, art and history combine to create a single vision.  "Heroes do not make history," says the narrator of "The Lady of Moge" -- "that is the historians' job."9  Orsinian Tales, however, offers abundant evidence that the job is not the sole responsibility of historians: it is shared by artists.10  Le Guin's tales are as historical as Scott's Waverly novels are, and her history is as much an aesthetic invention as are Dinesen's finely crafted tales.  As Le Guin's art in Orsinian Tales redeems her history from meaningless contingency and hopeless determinism, her history redeems her art from amoral escapism.

Le Guin's arrangement of the tales embodies a complex organic vision of history.  If they are not arranged as they were written, neither are they arranged as history courses are, to give the impression that chronology and historical causality are somehow synonymous.  Nor are they randomly mixed up just to give us the exercise of reconstituting Orsinia's history.  Le Guin's ordering of the tales guides us through the history of Orsinia so that we move forward only by circling back to the past; we understand any present moment only as we understand it to be an organic part of its past and future.  After beginning in 1960 ("The Fountains"), we return to 1150 ("The Barrow"), move forward to 1920 ("Ile Forest" and "Conversations at Night"), then on to 1956 ("The Road East"), back to 1910 ("Brothers and Sisters"), forward beyond 1956 to 1962 ("A Week in the Country"), back to 1938 ("An die Musik"), forward beyond 1962 to 1965 ("The House"), back to 1640 ("The Lady of Moge"), and finally forward to 1935 ("Imaginary Countries"), coming to rest, at the end of the collection, at the chronological center of these eleven tales: five are set before 1935, and five after 1935.  As I will show later, this is not the only way in which "Imaginary Countries" is the central tale in Orsinian Tales.

The pattern of this movement through these tales that are Orsinia's history--a synthesis of circularity and linearity, a series of returns which are also advances--is not only the configuration of Le Guin's sense of history; it is also the aesthetic structure that informs most of her fiction.  The romance quest, which is at once a return to roots and an advance, is Ged's path (way, Tao) in Earthsea; it is the route taken by Genly Ai and Estraven from Karhide over the Gobrin Ice to "The Place Inside the Blizzard" and back to Karhide, and it is the form of Shevek's journey from Anarres to Urras and back home again.  In Orsinian Tales, this pattern is present not only in the shape of the whole collection; it is present also in individual tales: Freyga, Count of Montayana, returns to pagan sacrifice then advances the cause of Benedictine monks; Adam Kereth returns to Orsinia after "defecting" at Versailles; and Mariya returns to her husband Pier Korre in Aisnar after searching for independence and freedom from marriage in Krasnoy.

These circular journeys are in one way or another versions of the Romantic quest for home, freedom, and wholeness.11  What Le Guin's characters learn on their quests is that freedom and wholeness are not to be found in individualism, but in partnership, and further, that freedom from historical necessity comes not from escaping history, but from returning to roots.  This is the moral message that takes shape when we see Le Guin's fiction from the perspective created by her distancing techniques.  It is the ethical principle discovered by Sanzo Chekey and Alitsia Benat, by Stefan Fabbre and Bruna Augeskar, and by Mariya and Pier Lorre.  In Le Guin's fantasy and science fiction it is discovered by Ged and Vetch, Tenar and Ged, Arren and Ged, Genly Ai and Estraven, George Orr and Heather Lelache, Shevek and Takver.  In The Dispossessed, we find Le Guin's most concise statement of the principle, chiseled into Odo's tombstone: "to be whole is to be part: / true voyage is return."  It is the ethical foundation of Le Guin's fiction, even as it is aesthetic form and historical consciousness.

Ethics, art, and history, along with religion, philosophy, politics, and science, are what Joseph Needham calls "moulds of understanding."12  Each one, taken by itself, offers a limited and limiting mode of comprehending and experiencing the world.  Orsinian Tales is one of Le Guin's attempts to formulate a unified mould of understanding that integrates artistic, ethical, and historical modes.  Convinced that the worlds we experience, from subatomic to cosmic levels, whether material or imaginative, are all integrated parts of an ordered whole, a continuous process, Le Guin has from the beginning of her career tried to fashion fictional techniques to comprehend that order.13  The hybrid of realism and fantasy in Orsinian Tales, the fantasy of the Earthsea trilogy, and the science fiction of the Hainish novels are all different means to the same end: a realization of the unity of the world we live in.  The end, unity, and the formal means, a circular journey, are cognate.  In one sense, Le Guin uses different genres; but in another sense, those genres are merely distinct, though not radically different, constellations of moulds of understanding.  Just as the artist and historian in Le Guin collaborate in Orsinian Tales, artist and scientist work together in her science fiction.  Genly Ai opens his report from Gethen with these remarks:

I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of the telling: like that singular organic jewel of our sea, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real that pearls are. But both are sensitive.14

Ai then proceeds to weave together his own story; extracts from Estraven's journal; an anthropological report; and Gethenian legends, folktales, and myth.  Each presents only a partial view of the truth; together they come closer to Truth.  For Le Guin, the real and the fantastic, fact and value, art and history, myth and science are neither separate nor even separable realms and modes of discovery; they are complementary and internally related parts of the same realm.  "How can you tell the legend from the fact?" asks the narrator of Rocannon's World.15  The answer, of course, is "you can't."  Another answer, an ethical one, is "you shouldn't."  Le Guin's fiction denies the walls we build with different moulds of understanding; it denies the reification and dehumanization that a fragmented and compartmentalized way of life produces.  Like the music Ladislas Gaye hears at the end of "An die Musik," "it denies and breaks down all the shelters, the houses men build for themselves, that they may see the sky" (145).

2. The Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto was disturbed by the shifting and sometimes contradictory meanings of Marx's words and concepts:

If you raise some objections against a passage in Capital, a passage whose meaning seems to you incontestable, someone can quote another, whose meaning is entirely different.  It is the fable of the bat all over again. If you embrace one meaning, someone tells you

I am a bird; see my wings;
Long live the flying things!

And if you adopt the other, someone tells you

I am a mouse; long live the rats;
Jupiter confound the cats!16

Much the same can be said--indeed has been said, though in a positive rather than in a negative sense--about the ideas and concepts in Le Guin's fiction.  In his essay on the Earthsea trilogy, T.A. Shippey may not argue that Le Guin's words are, like bats, both birds and mice, but he does note that Le Guin's story embodies an "argument" against "conceptual barriers" that result from "the very sharpness and hardness of modern concepts."17  Not only does Le Guin make "covert comparisons between 'fantastic' and 'familiar,'" says Shippey; she also shifts the meanings of familiar concepts: at times magic in Earthsea seems to be a science, at other times an art, and at still other times, it is ethics.  The "oscillation between concepts" that Shippey sees in the Earthsea trilogy is not peculiar to Le Guin's juvenile fantasy; it permeates nearly everything she has written, from her individual sentences to her major themes, images, and even characters.  Were Pareto alive, he might consider Le Guin's Gethenians just as bat-like as Marx's concepts: if he tried to see them as men, they would become women, and if he tried to see them as women, they would become men.  Le Guin wants to teach readers like Pareto (and characters like Genly Ai) to think both-and (or even, perhaps, neither-nor) rather than either-or.18  She started doing just that in the fifties and sixties when she was writing her Orsinian tales.

Long before Le Guin wrote a sentence like "The king was pregnant" (LHD, 100), she was writing sentences like this one in Orsinian Tales: "On a sunny morning in Cleveland, Ohio, it was raining in Krasnoy and the streets between grey walls were full of men" (108).  This sentence first situates us in a familiar time and place, then erases the distinctions we make between a real country like the USA and an imaginary country like Orsinia.  Cleveland and Krasnoy do not exist in the same world.  Or do they?  Le Guin's sentence creates a new world, neither our familiar one, nor an entirely fantastic one, but a world which is both realistic and fantastic.  The point of this sentence is not that one thing is real and the other is imaginary; the point is that they are both in the same sentence.  The world of Le Guin's fiction is not a realm of well-defined, discrete things and places and times and ideas; rather, it is a realm where categories and perspectives are fluid, a world which is ordered process in which nothing, except change itself, can be taken for granted as certain.  Orsinia's location, its political history, even its geology, are all in flux.

Orsinia can be placed on two different maps. Darrell Schweitzer says that "in Orsinian Tales Le Guin seems to be trying to do a Dubliners set in an unnamed central European country (clearly Hungary, complete with a revolution against foreign conquerors in 1956)."19  Le Guin's brother Karl Kroeber, on the other hand, tells us "not to seek in Bulgaria for the setting of 'Brothers and Sisters.'  The curious growthless plain of limestone quarries is not East of the Sun and West of the Moon, just a little south of Zembla and north of Graustark."20  Though Kroeber is mostly right in placing Orsinia on the same map with Nabokov's distant northern kingdom in Pale Fire and McCutcheon's Balkan kingdom, rather than in a totally fantastic realm ("East of the Sun and West of the Moon"), and though Schweitzer is mostly wrong in identifying Orsinia with Hungary, neither of these two mappers takes full account of Le Guin's "oscillation," as Shippey might call it, between Joycean naturalism and the escapism of McCutcheon's Graustark or Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda.  Literary naturalism and Ruritanian romances were contemporary phenomena at the turn of the century when many writers and readers were making clear distinctions between realism and romance.  Le Guin's fictional techniques dissolve those distinctions; the boundaries between the real and the fantastic disappear when we understand them to be complementary and internally related parts of the imaginary.21

Le Guin herself says that Orsinia is an "invented though non-fantastic Central European country."22  Le Guin's invented worlds, whether set in Europe or in the Hainish universe, still contain accurate and naturalistic facts, history in the first instance, science in the second.  To make the transition from writing Orsinian tales to writing science fiction was no major step for Le Guin; all she had to do was replace one social science (history), with another (anthropology), and integrate some elements from the hard sciences.  In fact, some of the Orsinian tales were written at the same time she was writing the Hainish novels.23

There are, certainly, ample naturalistic facts in Orsinian Tales to send us looking for Orsinia on a map of Europe.  We visit Versailles, hear of Croatian microbiologists, get a glimpse of the conflict between Teutonic paganism and Christianity in the early Middle Ages; we see the social and economic dislocation caused by late nineteenth-century industrialization, watch the suffering of a World War I veteran, and hear about an insurrection in Budapest in October, 1956.  But just when we become secure with our identifications between the fictive and the real, the things we see change (like Pareto's bat), and we're in places that appear on no map of Europe.  Conversely, when we suspend disbelief and get comfortable in Krasnoy or Sfaroy Kampe or Aisnar, we learn, with a clerk-composer in Foranoy (who has a sister in Prague), that Hitler is meeting Chamberlain in Munich in September, 1938.  One city in Orsinia seems to have a foot in both worlds: Brailava could be as real as Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, or it could be as imaginary as Sfaroy Kampe.  The point, however, is this: we must not read Orsinian Tales the way blind men read an elephant.  To avoid seeing either a tree trunk or a wall or a rope, we must see the whole, be sensitive to the relationships among parts that characterize an organic whole.  Relationships, not discrete things, are the subject of all of Le Guin's fiction.  In "A Week in the Country," Stefan Fabbre recalls the story of a Hungarian nobleman.  The wars between the Ottoman Empire and Hungary were real; the story is a legend; and Stefan Fabbre is a product of Le Guin's imagination.  They are all related.  "How can you tell the legend from the fact?" "Truth is a matter of the imagination."

The political entities in Central Europe, like the boundaries between the familiar and the fantastic, have been fluid, and this is probably one reason that Le Guin chose Central Europe as the location of Orsinia.  Orsinia's name does more than play on it's creator's name; it echoes names like Bohemia, Silesia, Moravia, Galicia, and Croatia.  The singular fact of political experience for these people is that while they have tenaciously preserved their nationality, they have never had lasting political independence.  Orsinia shares with these countries a position on the battlegrounds of European and Asian imperialism, from Attila to the present.  Orsinia may have come under Hapsburg domination in the sixteenth century (Isabella, "the Lady of Moge," has a Spanish-sounding name) and was probably threatened by the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  In the eighteenth century Austria and Prussia could have fought a war in Orsinia; in the nineteenth century, Napoleon probably crossed Orsinian soil; and up to World War I, Orsinia was probably part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Then in the twentieth century, after a short-lived political independence, Orsinia was probably overwhelmed from the west by Hitler, and then a few years later, from the east by Stalin.24  This long historical nightmare of violent political change and oppression by authoritarian states only brings into sharper relief one of the major themes, if not the major theme, of these tales: the struggle of the individual to win a sense of freedom and wholeness in a prison-like society, and his heroic (the word is not too strong) efforts to maintain a sense of identity and self-respect.  It is but a short step from this to the thematic center of The Dispossessed.

Le Guin's imaginary countries are not finished creations in which the landscape, geological or moral, is set for all time.  The glaciers and volcanoes on Gethen, the earthquakes on Anarres, as well as Orsinia's limestone bedrock, are notable examples of geological flux. As Genly Ai and Estraven are ascending a glacier (a fluid solid) past the active volcanoes Drumner and Dremegole to reach the Gobrin Ice, Estraven records in his journal,

     We creep infinitesimally northward through the dirty chaos of a world in the process of making itself.
     Praise then Creation unfinished. [LHD, 227]

Orsinia's topography may not change as dramatically as Gethen's, but it is nevertheless also in flux; it too is "in the process of making itself."  One of the striking features of the Orsinian landscape is the Karst, the setting of "Brothers and Sisters."  Karst topography is characterized by rocky barren ground, caves, sinkholes, underground rivers, and the absence of surface streams and lakes, resulting from the work of underground water on massive soluble limestones.  Originally the term "karst" was applied to the Kras, a limestone area along the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia. (The principal city of Orsinia, Krasnoy, may take its name from the Kras, and the name of Foranoy may be related to foraminiferan tests, the raw material from which limestone is formed.)  There are no hymns like "Rock of Ages" in Orsinia. The rocks dissolve in water.25

Like all of Le Guin's imaginary countries, Orsinia is a paysage moralisé.  The moral and psychological resonance of the settings and landscapes in Le Guin's science fiction has already been recognized.26  What she does in the Hainish worlds and in Earthsea is anticipated in Orsinian Tales.  Like the chasm beneath the Shing city in City of Illusions, like the forests in "Vaster than Empires and More Slow" and The Word for World is Forest, like the islands and seas of Earthsea (another solid-liquid combination), the Karst in "Brothers and Sisters," the forest in "Ile Forest," and the mountains in "The Barrow," as well as the decaying house and garden on the Hill in Rákava in "Conversations at Night," are both images and symbols: they are at once themselves even as they refer beyond themselves to moral and psychological values and meanings.  If Orsinia's bedrock can be dissolved and reconstituted, so can moral values. Dr. Adam Kereth steals freedom and is then drawn back to Orsinia by mere fidelity; Count Freyga sacrifices a Christian priest then aids Christian monks; and Dr. Galven Ileskar, who believes that murder ought to be an unpardonable crime, loves a murderer who turns out to be his brother-in-law, and brother, too.

The thematic significance of the fluidity of Le Guin's political, topographical, psychological, and moral landscapes is this: her human actors are free to choose and to be personally responsible for their choices.  No less than the rocks in her landscapes, Le Guin's characters are "in the process of making themselves."  Neither reality nor ethics is handed to them on adamantine tablets (though some of them may think they are); whole cultures as well as individuals dissolve and reconstitute themselves as they change and grow.  This happens repeatedly in her science fiction: Terrans and Tevarans cease to exist as independent cultures in Planet of Exile, Gethenian cultures are on the brink of a major change in The Left Hand of Darkness, and reality itself is repeatedly reconstituted by George Orr's effective dreams in The Lathe of Heaven. It goes without saying, of course, that the society on Anarres is a society in the process of making itself which offers individuals the most freedom to make themselves (thereby remaking the society), as long as it does not petrify.  Faxe the Weaver speaks for Le Guin when she-he says "the only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next" (LHD, 71).  Life is making choices; if we knew what comes next, we could not choose.

But what certainties can Le Guin offer in the midst of all this flux?  Human relations: fidelity, constancy, and love.  In "A Week in the Country," Stefan Fabbre and Kasimir Augeskar, on their way to visit the Augeskars' summer home, exchange these words in a train compartment:

     "So here we are on a train to Aisnar," Kasimir said, "but we don't know that it's going to Aisnar. It might go to Peking."
     "It might derail and well be killed. And if we do come to Aisnar? What's Aisnar? Mere hearsay."
     "That's morbid," Kasimir said . . .
     "No, exhilarating," his friend answered. "Takes a lot of work to hold the world together, when you look at it that way. But it's worthwhile. Building up cities, holding roofs up by an act of fidelity. Not faith. Fidelity." [109-10]

What at first appears to be merely an academic discussion by two students to pass the time takes on new meanings by the end of the tale.  After Stefan falls in love with Bruna Augeskar, after he hears Joachim Bret sing an English lute song,

You be just and constant still, Love may beget a wonder,
Not unlike a summer's frost or winter's fatal thunder:
He that holds his sweetheart dear until his day of dying
Lives of all that ever lived most worthy the envying [120],

after he sees Kasimir killed by the secret police, and after he is tortured himself--after all that, when Bruna comes for him, he knows that there is "No good letting go, is there. . . . No good at all" (129).  Fidelity--being just and constant still--and love hold the world together in ways Stefan had not imagined.  And the more precarious existence becomes, the more necessary fidelity becomes.  In "Conversations at Night," Sanzo Chekey and Alitsia Benat are little more than beggars, and their hope, like Stefan's and Bruna's, lies in the personal fidelity that holds their world together:

     "Lisha," he [Sanzo] said, "oh, God, I want to hold on . . . Only it's a very long chance, Lisha."
     "We'll never get a chance that isn't long."
     "You would."
     "You are my long chance," she said, with a kind of bitterness, and a profound certainty. . . .
     "Well, hang on," he said . . . . "If you hang on, I will." [58-59, my emphasis]

"Betrayal and fidelity were immediate to them," Le Guin says of the Augeskar family in "A Week in the Country" (121).  Like many Le Guin characters, the Augeskars live out on the edge; they live near the Iron Curtain, in a political climate that makes their existence as perilous as the Gethenians' is in their barely habitable natural climate.  It is worth remembering that Le Guin says that The Left Hand of Darkness is "a book about betrayal and fidelity."27  Betrayal and fidelity are as immediate to Ai and Estraven when they trek across the Ice and when they seek aid from Thessicher, as they are to the Augeskars in Orsinia.  And finally, the best example in Le Guin's fiction of personal fidelity against a background of flux and uncertainty comes in The Dispossessed.  Just as Shevek is coming into Chakar to rejoin Takver and Sadik after a four-year separation, an earthquake hits the region. He finds Taliver's domicile, and knocks. She answers the door:

     She stood facing him.  She reached out, as if to push him away or to take hold of him, an uncertain, unfinished gesture.  He took her hand, and then they held each other, they came together and stood holding each other on the unreliable earth.

Just a moment before, Shevek had thought that "the earth itself was uncertain, unreliable.  The enduring, the reliable, is a promise made by the human mind" (TD, §10).  Human relations are no different on Orsinian soil.

A good analogue, perhaps a source, for Le Guin's use of landscape in Orsinian Tales is another paysage moralisé, Auden's "In Praise of Limestone":

If it form the landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. . . .
It has a worldly duty which in spite of itself
It does not neglect, but calls into question
All the Great Powers assume; it disturbs our rights. . . .
when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.28

Le Guin knows Auden's work, and may have read "In Praise of Limestone," which appeared about the time she was inventing Orsinia.29   Even if Le Guin was not directly influenced by Auden, there are unmistakable elective affinities here, and these might be explained by the fact that both Auden and Le Guin have been influenced by Rilke.30  Like Rilke, both Auden and Le Guin rely on concrete settings and naturalistic landscape detail to express moral values and emotions.  When Dr. Kereth returns to his hotel in Paris after having "stolen" freedom at Versailles, "kingly he strode past the secret-police agent in the lobby, hiding under his coat the stolen, inexhaustible fountains" (4).

In a review of Rilke's Duino Elegies, Auden wrote that Rilke is

almost the first poet since the seventeenth century to find a fresh solution [to the poet's problem of] how to express abstract ideas in concrete terms. . . . He thinks in physical rather than intellectual symbols. . . . Rilke thinks of the human in terms of the non-human, of what he calls Things (Dinge), a way of thought which, as he himself pointed out, is more characteristic of the child than of the adult.31

What Auden says of Rilke applies to Le Guin, and may help to account for the artistic superiority of the Earthsea trilogy over the science fiction.  Science fiction, as many have pointed out, is a literature of ideas.  Le Guin succeeds as well as anyone in finding concrete images for the abstract ideas of modern science, but this success falls short of what she accomplishes in her juvenile fantasy, and in many of the pieces in Orsinian Tales.  In her "Response" to the Le Guin issue of SFS Le Guin says that she

can't even think one stupid platitude without dragging in a mess of images and metaphors, domes, stones, rubble [Rilkean Dinge?] . . . . This lamentable concreteness of the mental processes is supposed, by some, to be a feminine trait. If so, all artists are women. And/or vice versa. [45]

Or children.  Whenever Le Guin succeeds in expressing human values and abstract ideas in vividly sketched landscapes, or with a "mess of images and symbols," she creates superior art.

In his discussion of Auden's moral landscapes and "psychic geography," Monroe K. Spears notes that "for Auden, as for Rilke, the distinction between inner and outer worlds is tenuous and interpenetration is constant."32  He could say the same of Le Guin, for the Earthsea trilogy is as much about Le Guin's own inner world as an artist as it is about Ged.  Le Guin herself says as much in "Dreams Must Explain Themselves," her essay recounting the genesis and growth of the Earthsea trilogy:

Wizardry is artistry. The trilogy is then, in this sense, about art, the creative experience, the creative process. There is always this circularity in fantasy. The snake devours its tail. Dreams must explain themselves.33

In the same sense that Ged is Le Guin, Orsinia is Ursula; the "true name" of her country, a pun on her own name, is one more instance of this "circularity in fantasy."  And that circularity can be seen clearly in the last and central tale in Orsinian Tales, "Imaginary Countries."

3. "Imaginary Countries" is a family portrait. Baron Severin Egideskar, his wife, and their three children Stanislas (fourteen), Paul (seven), and Zida (six) are in the last few days of their annual stay at "Asgard," their summer home in the country.  The baron will soon return to his chair as Follen Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Krasnoy.  Josef Brone, his research assistant, has been with them throughout the summer, helping the professor with the documentation for his history of the Ten Provinces (Orsinia) in the Early Middle Ages.  Rosa, the maid, and Tomas, the caretaker, complete the group.  The family that sat for this portrait is the A. L. Kroeber family, who used to spend summers at "Kishamish" in the Napa Valley, 60 miles north of Berkeley, where Kroeber was Professor of Anthropology at the University of California.  Like Kroeber, who spent his summers in the thirties working on a huge study in comparative cultural anthropology (Configurations of Culture Growth), Egideskar is at work on a "history [that] was years from completion" (172).  And like Ursula Kroeber, born in 1929, Zida Egideskar is six years old in 1935; so "Imaginary Countries" is, among other things, a portrait of the artist as a young girl.34

Le Guin has written a tale about the family of a professor who is writing a history of Orsinia, a country she invented; the professor has a daughter who is a portrait of the girl who grew up to invent an imaginary country where, in 1935, a professor is writing a history . . . and so on.  The snake devours its tail.  In addition to recognizing the uroboros, though, we might also see Chinese boxes:  Le Guin includes in a collection of tales set in an imaginary country a tale entitled "Imaginary Countries," which includes characters who live from time to time in imaginary countries. . . . "Imaginary Countries" is the central tale in the collection in the same sense that the point at which the snake's tail disappears into its mouth is central; or, it is central in the way that the intersection of two mirrors that produce an infinitely regressing image is central.

So "Imaginary Countries" is central in Orsinian Tales in more ways than just being the middle tale chronologically.  If we read Le Guin's Orsinian tales as Ursuline tales, then our reading of them becomes at once a journey into Orsinia's history and a journey into the history of Le Guin's invention of Orsinia's history.  The work created and the creative work become one.  Just as Le Guin's arrangement of the tales directs us back into Orsinia's past even as we move forward into the collection, "Imaginary Countries" returns us to the roots of the imagination that created the book we have just finished reading:  the last tale concludes the collection at the same time it looks toward the creation of the collection by showing us a portrait of the artist as a young girl.  When Le Guin placed "Imaginary Countries" at the end of Orsinian Tales, she was saying, in effect, "In my beginning is my end" and "In my end is my beginning" (the first and last lines of T.S. Eliot's "East Coker").  Orsinian Tales, then, has the same organic structure that The Dispossessed has.  The alternating chapters on Anarres and Urras are put together so that when we come to the end of Shevek's story on Anarres, he is ready to begin the trip to Urras that opens the novel; and when we come to the end of Shevek's story on Urras and his return to Anarres, we see him ready to leave Anarres.  Le Guin would probably accept what another Romantic, Coleridge, says about the function of poetry:

The common end of all narrative, nay of all, Poems is to convert a series into a Whole; to make those events, which in real or imagined History move on in a strait Line, assume to our Understandings a circular motion -- the snake with it's Tail in it's Mouth.35

Orsinian Tales does this for the imaginary history of Orsinia at the same time it does it for the real history that is Le Guin's career as a writer.

     It could be that Professor Egideskar, who writes narratives of "real" history, as well as his creator, who writes narratives of imagined history, would agree with Coleridge.  An observer of history as sensitive as the baron would have seen that the idea of Progress, the ever-ascending "strait Line" of history that was born in the Enlightenment, was not working in the ethics and politics of the twentieth century; by studying early medieval times, he may be trying to understand history not in strictly linear terms (chronology and causality), but in circular terms as well (returns and rebirths).  The baron could not be unaware of the goings on to the west of Orsinia in the thirties.  Nazi barbarism, in fact, may be the silent subject of his history of Orsinia in the Early Middle Ages.36  Among the events he is studying and interpreting would be incidents like the one Le Guin describes in "The Barrow," set in 1150.  His assistant Josef Brone reads from "the Latin chronicle of a battle lost nine hundred years ago" (172); one of the incunabula Josef and the baron pack in a trunk probably contains the "bad Latin of [the Benedictine] chronicles of Count Freyga and his son," mentioned at the end of "The Barrow" (14).  Count Freyga lived at the time when pagan ethics and Christian ethics clashed; although he is nominally a Christian, he reverts to sacrificing a priest to "Odne the Silent" to relieve his terrifying anxiety about his wife and unborn child.  The baron lives at a time when a nominally civilized culture is reverting to barbarism.  Understanding medieval Orsinia, going to historical roots, may help Egideskar understand twentieth-century Europe.

Some readers may think that the baron, who calls his wife Freya and his summer home Asgard, is implicated in the revival of Norse myth used by the Nazis to legitimate their ideologies.37  That would be doing the baron a disservice, for he does know the difference between a unicorn's hoofprint and a pig's (177), and there is as much difference between a true myth and a false myth as there is between a unicorn and a pig.  The baron faces the problem that any serious student of history and culture sooner or later faces:  he is part of what he is trying to understand.  He needs a technique of distancing.  He can get it by spending his summers away from Krasnoy, by participating in his family's imaginary countries, and by studying the history of Orsinia in the Early Middle Ages.  In order to get free of the distorting fog of subjectivity and ideology, he needs an Archimedes point from which he can get "a view in"; he needs to see from a place "a very long way from anywhere else."38  The baron, that is to say, encounters the same problems as a historian that Le Guin faces as a writer, and this is yet another way in which "Imaginary Countries" is the central tale in Orsinian Tales.  In a book that is in many ways about history, we have a portrait of a historian: still another instance of the circularity of fantasy.

But "Imaginary Countries" is more than the central tale in the collection. Earlier I said that a trip through Orsinia may take us to the underground streams that nourish the roots of the imagination that created Earthsea and the Hainish worlds.  Coming at the end of the trip, "Imaginary Countries" brings us as close as we are likely to come to those streams, Le Guin's childhood experience of Norse myth and folklore.

Written in 1960, after Le Guin had been exploring Orsinia in novels and tales for a decade, and before she turned to stories that fit publishers' categories, "Imaginary Countries" is a tale in which Le Guin returned to the myths that informed her childhood play and nourished her imagination.39  Like "the Oak" in Stanislas' "kingdom of the trees," the whole body of Le Guin's fiction can be seen as Yggdrasil, the Norse world-tree, with its roots in Orsinia and its branches and leaves in the far-away galaxies of the Hainish universe. When Josef follows Stanislas into "the Great Woods," Stanislas guides him to "the Oak":

It was the biggest tree [Josef] had ever seen; he had not seen very many. "I suppose it's very old," he said; looking up puzzled at the reach of branches, galaxy after galaxy of green leaves without end. [173]

In this story, which precedes by three years Le Guin's invention-discovery of the Hainish universe, she was already using the language of science fiction with Norse myth.  That is exactly how she created the Hainish worlds: in "The Dowry of Angyar" ("Semley's Necklace" in The Wind's Twelve Quarters), she wove together the Einsteinian notion of time-dilation with the Norse myth of Freya and the Brisingamen Necklace.  That story became the germ of Rocannon's World, her first novel, and from that the rest of the Hainish novels followed.  The Earthsea trilogy evolved in much the same way.

After Le Guin started writing science fiction, she returned to Yggdrasil again and again. In Planet of Exile, Rolery gazes at a mural representing Terra and "the other worlds":

The strangest thing in all the strangeness of this house was the painting on the wall of the big room downstairs.  When Agat had gone and the rooms were deathly still she stood gazing at this picture till it became the world and she the wall.  And the picture was a network: a deep network, like the interlacing branches in the woods, like interrunning currents in water, silver, gray, black, shot through with green and rose and a yellow like the sun.  As one watched their deep network, one saw in it, among it, woven into it and weaving it, little and great patterns and figures, beasts, trees, grasses, men and women and other creatures, some like farborns and some not; and strange shapes, boxes set on round legs, birds, axes, silver spears with wings and a tree whose leaves were stars.40

Here is an actual landscape (spacescape?) painting (which, incidentally, describes Le Guin's fiction as well as any critical article has), a paysage moralisé, representing an imaginary landscape, the Hainish worlds, seen through the eyes of a native of Gamma Draconis III, a person whose ways of seeing have been shaped by the landscape of her native world, itself another of Le Guin's paysages moralisés.  The tree in this painting, "the Oak" in "Imaginary Countries," and all the other trees in Le Guin's fiction, from the rowan tree in The Farthest Shore (§1) in Le Guin's "Inner Lands" to the forests on Athshe in The Word for World is Forest in her "Outer Space" -- they all have the same roots.

Like the painting we see through Rolery's eyes, Le Guin's prose landscapes are full of things.  Could it be that her artistry in representing abstract concepts derives from her childhood moulds of understanding, moulds like those of Zida Egideskar, who builds a unicorn trap from "an egg-crate decorated with many little bits of figured cloth and colored paper . . . a wooden coat hanger . . . an eggshell painted gold . . . a bit of quartz . . . a breadcrust" (176-77)?  Rilke, who believed that thinking of the human in terms of Dinge is characteristic of the child, would answer yes.  Like Zida's unicorn trap, Le Guin's fiction is built by an artisan from a "mess of images and metaphors, domes, stones, rubble" to catch imaginary beasts, imaginary people, imaginary countries, androgynes, mythic archetypes, truth.  Zida Egideskar is indeed a portrait of the artist as a young girl.

When Josef Brone asks Stanislas what he does in "the Great Woods," Stanislas answers, "'Oh, I map trails'" (173).  That answer is profoundly meaningful, for it describes what Le Guin herself does in her fiction.  Her discovery-invention and mapping of imaginary countries has been her artistic solution to the epistemological problem that confronts everyone in the human sciences: like anthropologists, historians, psychologists, sociologists, and students of art, Le Guin is part of the social and cultural and historical situation she wants to write about.  In this position, objectivity and truth seem impossible ideals, especially when the culture debases language and fictional forms, the writer's only tools for discovering truth.  Because Le Guin is an artist, this philosophical/ideological/political problem presents itself to her as an artistic problem requiring an artistic solution.  And because artists are supposed to tell the truth, it is an ethical problem.  Inventing imaginary countries and mapping them has been Le Guin's solution to her artistic/ethical problem.  Lies are the way to truth.  The real subject of Le Guin's fiction is not life in any of her imaginary countries, in Orsinia or on Gethen or Anarres or Gont or Havnor; these are metaphors, landscapes, Dinge, thought experiments, what Kafka (in a letter to Max Brod) calls "strategic considerations":

     It sometimes seems to me that the nature of art in general, the existence of art, is explicable solely in terms of such 'strategic considerations,' of making possible the exchange of truthful words from person to person.41

Seen in this light, "Imaginary Countries" is not only the central tale in Orsinian Tales; it is also central to the whole body of Le Guin's writing, and more than that, to the act of writing itself.

4. Even if Le Guin's strategic considerations do make possible the exchange of truthful words, what if no one wants to publish them?  What good are truthful words if they are not exchanged?  What's the use of writing?  What's the use of art?  Questions like these may have been in Le Guin's mind around 1960 when she wrote "An die Musik."42  Like Ursula Le Guin herself, who had been writing Orsinian novels and tales for ten years without seeing any of them in print, Ladislas Gaye (whose name faintly echoes his creator's) has been writing songs and a Mass for ten years and has very little hope of ever hearing them performed.  If "Imaginary Countries" includes a portrait of the artist as a young girl, "An die Musik," written at the same time, includes an oblique portrait of the artist as a grown woman.  Like the Earthsea trilogy, it is "about art, the creative experience, the creative process."  "An die Musik," however, is much more than self-portraiture, for it raises questions about the relationship between art and politics--questions fundamental not only to any serious discussion of Le Guin's later works, but fundamental also to any serious discussion of the social role of art in the twentieth century.

The tension between "public and private imperatives"43 in Earthsea and the Hainish worlds is a reflection or a projection of an ethical conflict in Le Guin herself, and that conflict--between her duty as an artist to serve her art and her commitment to a social ideal--is at the center of "An die Musik," and continues to be prominent in her later fiction, even when an artist is not the central character.  A theoretical physicist like Shevek or a mathematician like Simon in "The New Atlantis" is as much an artist as are the musicians that appear throughout Le Guin's fiction.44  Le Guin does, of course, define the problem in radically different ways in "An die Musik" and in The Dispossessed or "The New Atlantis."  But even if her formulations of the artist's problem have changed, her conception of the purpose of art has remained constant and steady.  With Auden, she believes that the end of art, its final cause, its raison d'être, is to persuade us to rejoice and to teach us how to praise.  Answering Tolstoy's question "What is Art?" Le Guin defines the job of art with one word: "celebration."45

If Le Guin's trilogy of imaginary countries--Orsinia, Earthsea, and the Hainish universe--manifests the same circularity that her fantasy trilogy does (as I think it does), then we can apply her injunction "dreams must explain themselves" to the whole body of her fiction.  In order to begin an exploration of the problematic relationships in her later fiction between creativity and politics, between the demands of the imagination and the demands of everyday life, or, more broadly, between the individual and society, we can do no better than return to "An die Musik," her first published story.  It is the first of many works in which Le Guin dramatizes the problems she herself faces whenever she sits down to write.  This is not the place to make a comprehensive survey of the ways Le Guin has handled these issues in all of her fiction; all I will do here is look carefully at one of her earliest formulations.

As she would do in The Left Hand of Darkness when she constructed a thought experiment to explore sexuality, in "An die Musik" Le Guin creates a character--a composer with an "absolutely first rate" talent (249)--and places him in a setting--Foranoy, Orsinia, in 1938, a "dead town for music . . . not a good world for music, either" (254)--in order to ask three related questions:

  1. should an artist, as a private individual, ignore the demands of his family to meet the demands of his art?
  2. should an artist use his public voice to serve art, or to serve a political idea? and
  3. what is the function of art?

When Le Guin puts Gaye in a cramped three-room flat and gives him a bedridden mother, an ailing wife, and three children to support on his wages as a clerk in a steel ballbearing factory, and when she makes him a talented composer with a compulsion to rival Berlioz and Mahler by writing a grandiose Mass for "women's chorus, double men's chorus, full orchestra, brass choir, and an organ" (249), she formulates the question in such stark either-or terms that Gaye's conflicting ethical duties are simply irreconcilable.  At the same time, she dramatizes each of these claims on Gaye so skillfully that neither can be denied: Gaye cannot abandon his Mass because, as he tells Otto Egorin, "I've learned how to do what I must do, you see, I've begun it, I have to finish it" (253), and he cannot abandon his family because he is "not made so" (251).  If neither obligation can be denied and if their conflicting claims are so polarized that they cannot be reconciled, then Gaye's moral dilemma cannot be resolved; it can only be transcended, and then only for a moment.  Moreover, by setting the tale in 1938, Le Guin polarizes the artist's public duties as severely as she polarizes his private ones.  His only choices are to write apolitical music (Lieder or a Mass) or socialist realism (a symphony "to glorify the latest boiler-factory in the Urals" [255]).

Le Guin's formulation of Gaye's moral/aesthetic dilemma is thoroughly dualistic: it rests on the belief that a devotion to art, like the devotion to a religious creed, is absolutely incompatible with everyday life.  In "An die Musik" art is religion; if it traffics in social issues, it debases itself.  Just as Jesus Christ called on his disciples to abandon all family ties if they wanted to follow Him (Matt. 10:34-39; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 14:25-26), Egorin, who believes that "if you live for music you live for music," suggests to Gaye that he "throw over . . . [his] sick mother and sick wife and three brats" if he wants to write his Mass and hear it performed (251).  And then directly quoting Christ, he tells Gaye:

You have great talent, Gaye, you have great courage, but you're too gentle, you must not try to write a big work like this Mass.  You can't serve two masters [Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13].  Write songs, short pieces, something you can think of while you work at this Godforsaken steel plant and write down at night when the rest of the family's out of the way for five minutes. . . . Write little songs, not impossible Masses. [252]

But Gaye, like Kasimir Agueskar, another Orsinian musician, is an "enemy of the feasible" (OT, 121).  He must write the Mass.  He will continue to serve art and his family, Godly art and a Godforsaken steel plant, even if the tension tears him in two.  All he wants from Egorin is the recognition of his identity as a musician; that gives him the strength and freedom he needs to endure the conflict he can neither escape nor resolve.

Finally exasperated by "the arrogance, the unreasonableness . . . the stupidity, the absolute stupidity" of artists (253), yet recognizing Gaye's talent and wanting to encourage him and to produce some of his work, Egorin gives Gaye a volume of Eichendorff's poetry.  "'Set me some of these,'" he tells Gaye, "'here, look, this one, 'Es wandelt, was sir schauen,' you see--that should suit you'" (253). It is one of Eichendorff's religious lyrics:

Es wandelt, was wir schauen,
Tag sinkt ins Abendrot,
Die Lust hat eignes Grauen,
Und alles hat den Tod.

Ins Leben schleicht das Leiden
Sich heimlich wie ein Dieb,
Wir alle mussen scheiden
Vor allem, was uns lieb.

Was gäb' es doch auf Erden,
Wer hielt' den Jammer aus
Wer möcht' geboren werden,
Hielt'st du night droben haus!

Du bist's, der, was wir bauen,
Mild über uns zerbricht,
Dass wir den Himmel schauen--
Darum so klag'ich nicht.

Things change, whatever we look at,
Day sinks into sunset glow,
Desire has its own horror,
And everything dies.

Into life steals sorrow
As secretly as a thief,
We must all be separated
From everything that loves us.

What is there of value on earth,
Who could endure the misery,
Who would want to be reborn,
Dost Thou not promise a home above!

It is Thou, who, whatever we build,
Gently breakest down over us
That we may see Heaven --
And so I do not complain.46


Why should this "suit" Gaye?  Egorin sees Gaye's personal dilemma as hopeless and wants to offer him the consolation that things change: "'Es wandelt.' Things do change sometimes, after all, don't they?" (253).  He wants to offer Gaye some way of enduring the suffering he cannot escape.  The religious belief of Eichendorff, a Roman Catholic, is Egorin's solution to Gaye's personal problems as an artist.

Egorin can offer no consolation whatsoever to Gaye to help him out of his public dilemma.  Because his conception of art forces him to separate it from politics, Egorin's attitude toward the possibility that art can change things in 1938, can make something happen, is completely defeatist:

"Gaye," said Otto Egorin, "you know there's one other thing.  This is not a good world for music, either.  This world now, in 1938.  You're not the only man who wonders, what's the good? who needs music, who wants it?  Who indeed, when Europe is crawling with armies like a corpse with maggots, when Russia uses symphonies to glorify the latest boiler-factory in the Urals, when the function of music has been all summed up in Putzi playing the piano to soothe the Leader's nerves.  By the time your Mass is finished, you know, all the churches may be blown into little pieces, and your men's chorus will be wearing uniforms and also being blown into little pieces.  If not send it to me, I shall be interested.  But I'm not hopeful.  I am on the losing side, with you . . . . music is no good, no use, Gaye.  Not any more.  Write your songs, write your Mass, it does no harm.  I shall go on arranging concerts, it does no harm.  But it won't save us . . .." [254-55]

Perhaps because she has a hindsight Egorin does not have, Le Guin does not share his defeatism.  And as we discover at the end of the tale, Gaye does not share Egorin's defeatism either.  Music does save him, though not in the sense Egorin has in mind.

In the final scenes, Le Guin brings all the questions about the artist and art together, forces Gaye's tensions to the breaking point, and then resolves them not by answering any of the questions she has raised, but by creating an epiphany which transcends the questions.  On the afternoon of the day that Chamberlain meets Hitler in Munich to hand over the Sudetenland, Gaye is trying to finish his setting of "Es wandelt" and his wife is demanding that he do something about their son Vasli who has been caught with some other boys trying to set a cat on fire.  Gaye's cry "let me have some peace" (257) is both his and Europe's: private and public merge.  A moment later, European politics, the coming war, his family problems, and his Mass all converge as he consoles Vasli, with the sound of his mother's radio coming from the next room:

All cruelty, all misery, all darkness present and to come hung round them . . .. In the thick blaring of the trombones, thick as cough-sirup, Gaye heard for a moment the deep clear thunder of his Sanctus like the thunder between the stars, over the edge of the universe--one moment of it, as if the roof of the building had been taken off and he looked up into the complete, enduring darkness, one moment only. [257]47

In the evening, as he sits at the kitchen table with his wife, who is mending and listening to the radio (full of news of Munich, no doubt), Gaye tries to recapture the accompaniment to the last verse of "Es wandelt" so he can write it down and send it to Egorin in Krasnoy.  At the moment when "the total impossibility of writing was a choking weight in him," at the moment when he thinks "nothing would ever change," he hears Lotte Lehmann on the radio singing Schubert's "An die Musik."48  The barrier between inner and outer worlds evaporates as he initially mistakes the music on the radio for the unwritten music in his mind:

He thought it was his own song, then, raising his head, understood that he was actually hearing this tune.  He did not have to write it.  It had been written long ago, no one need suffer for it any more.  Lehmann was singing it,

Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir.

He sat still a long time.  Music will not save us, Otto Egorin had said.  Not you, or me . . .; not Lehmann who sang the song; not Schubert who had written it and was a hundred years dead.  What good is music? None, Gaye thought, and that is the point.  To the world and its states and armies and factories and Leaders, music says, 'You are irrelevant'; and, arrogant and gentle as a god, to the suffering man it says only, 'Listen.'  For being saved is not the point.  Music saves nothing.  Merciful, uncaring, it denies and breaks down all the shelters, the houses men build for themselves, that they may see the sky. [258]

Gaye's epiphany rises not only from the identification of inner and outer music; it also depends on the conjunction of the words in the last stanza of Eichendorff's "Es wandelt" and the words in the lyric set by Schubert, Schober's "An die Musik."  Here is Schober's poem:

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Harz zu warmer Lieb' entzunden,
Hast mich in eine bessre Welt entrückt!
In eine bessre Welt entrückt.

Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf' entflossen
Ein süsser, heiliger Akkord von dir,
Den Himmel bessrer Zeiten mir erschlossen
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafur!
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir.

O kindly Art, in how many a grey hour
when I am caught in life's unruly round
have you fired my heart with ardent love
and borne me to a better world!
Borne me to a better world.

Often, has a sigh from your harp,
a chord, sweet and holy, from you
opened for me a heaven of better times;
O kindly Art, for that I thank you!
O kindly Art, I thank you.49


Gaye has been suffering, trying to write the music for the last stanza of Eichendorff's poem, which Le Guin renders as "It is Thou in thy mercy that breakest down over our heads all we build, that we may see the sky: and so I do not complain" (257).  In the afternoon, Gaye had heard the thunder of his Sanctus like thunder between the stars "as if the roof of the building had been taken off."  Now, in the evening, as he hears his own unwritten tune in Schubert's, Gaye also hears Eichendorff's and Schober's lyrics simultaneously, the first inside his head and the second outside, sung by Lehmann on the radio.  He experiences the synchronicity of a poem addressed to God and a poem addressed to Art: Eichendorff's God, who breaks down what men build that they may see heaven, becomes Schober's kindly Art, realized by Schubert and performed by Lehmann, opening for Gaye a heaven of better times.  "Arrogant and gentle as a god," music, not God, "breaks down all the shelters, the houses men build for themselves, that they may see the sky."  It fires his heart with love and carries him to a better world.  Art renews the possibility of utopia.50  The paradox at the core of Gaye's epiphany is religious: what he suffers for releases him from suffering for it.  Music does save him.  Le Guin saves Gaye from the conflict of "public and private imperatives" as she merges inner and outer worlds in a palimpsest of art and religion, of immanence and transcendance.

Gaye's epiphany does not, however, unravel the Gordian knot of his ethical dilemmas.  It cuts right through them.  Otto Egorin, who believes that "music is no good, no use . . . not any more," has a defeatist attitude because he retains vestiges of a belief that music is of some good, that it is of some use.  Gaye's flash of insight saves him from defeatism by wiping out entirely the question of the success or failure of an artist's attempts to do some good.  The world's states, its armies, its factories, and its Fuehrers are all simply irrelevant; politics and economics are of no concern to the artist.  The function of art is not to save anything or to make something happen or to change the world.  Its function is to deny the world, to detach people from politics and history so they can receive visions of a better world, and perhaps redeem politics and history with that vision.  Art mediates a negative dialectic; it removes the obstacles that block the way to a better world, but it does not bring that world into being.  That is the task of the artist's audience.

So, as he sits in Foranoy, Orsinia, in September, 1938--as Hitler is meeting Chamberlain and as "Europe is crawling with armies like a corpse with maggots"--Gaye concludes that "music saves nothing."  A few months later, after Chamberlain had returned to London proclaiming "peace with honour . . . peace for our time," W. B. Yeats died.  Auden, who had wrestled throughout the thirties with the problem of the artist's duty, came to a position in his elegy on the death of Yeats that is nearly identical with Gaye's:

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

If poetry makes nothing happen, what then is the proper duty of the poet? What should he do in a world where

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Auden's answer is

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.51

This is, I would argue, what Le Guin does, not only in "An die Musik," but throughout Orsinian Tales and the rest of her fiction as well.  With "all cruelty, all misery, all darkness present and to come" hanging about him, Gaye hears his Sanctus and looks into "the complete, enduring darkness."  In each volume of the Earthsea trilogy, Le Guin journeys into the "nightmare of the dark," to the "bottom of the night," and emerges to rejoice and to praise.  Genly Ai and Estraven go into "The Place Inside the Blizzard" and Shevek's quest takes him into a cellar with a dying man.  Each of the Orsinian tales describes a similar journey into darkness.  

And there is, moreover, a sense in which every story Le Guin tells is an Orsinian tale; they all bear her name.  In that sense, the trip into darkness that most of her characters make is a trip she herself makes as an artist whenever she writes a story.  Along with some other modern writers, Le Guin is a lineal descendant of Orpheus.52  Sometimes the map of her journey is historical, as in Orsinian Tales; sometimes it is psychological and ethical, as in the Earthsea trilogy; sometimes it is political, as in The Word for World is Forest and The Dispossessed.  It is always an aesthetic journey.  In each case, the message Le Guin returns with is a version of the invocation Estraven murmers every night as he goes to sleep: "Praise then darkness and Creation unfinished" (LHD, 246).53

If we could abstract from Le Guin's practice the ideas that define for her the proper duty of an artist, if we could formulate a statement of the ethics that guides her when she practices her art, it would probably come close to Rilke's definition of the artist's role:

Art cannot be helpful through our trying to keep and specially concerning ourselves with the distresses of others, but in so far as we bear our own distresses more passionately, give now and then a perhaps clearer meaning to endurance, and develop for ourselves the means of expressing the suffering within us and its conquest more precisely and clearly than is possible to those who have to apply their powers to something else.54

Le Guin has consistently occupied herself with her own inner life.  She has always written fantasy, searching not in the outside world, but in her own creative unconscious, for the subjects of her fiction.  The course of her development from the early sixties into the middle seventies has been a series of attempts to develop for herself the means of expressing her own suffering (which, of course, can be ethical and political as well as psychological) and its conquest more precisely and clearly.  She would probably agree with Rilke's repeated assertion that we are "only just where we persist in praising."55  But she also feels the need to blame.  The strength of her convictions and her ethical principles demands that.  When her fiction blames, however, as The Word for World is Forest does, it is less just.

Ultimately, the real subject of "An die Musik" and the rest of Le Guin's fiction that explores ethical problems is not a group of ethical questions.  These are means, not ends.  Her purpose is to ask them, not to answer them.  The real subject of "An die Musik" is celebration: the tale is a celebration of Gaye's devotion to his art, and beyond that, a celebration of art itself.  That is the meaning of its title.  Like Estraven, Shevek, Kasimir Augeskar, and many other Le Guin characters, Gaye is an "enemy of the feasible."  Le Guin places so many obstacles between him and his music not merely to let him wrestle with questions about the duty of the artist and the function of art, but to dramatize more vividly Gaye's capacity to endure and survive, and to pursue an ideal without compromising either himself or his goal.  Like Auden's "In Memory of W.B. Yeats," which, in Samuel Hynes's words, "transforms calamity into celebration by an act of the imagination, and so affirms the survival of art in a bad time,"56 "An die Musik" and Orsinian Tales are acts of imagination that transform the calamity of history that is Central Europe into a celebration of the individual's ability to survive bad times.


      1. Le Guin, personal correspondence, March 7, 1977.  The name Orsinia and the adjective Orsinian appear nowhere in the text of Orsinian Tales.  Le Guin's imaginary country is neither realistic nor fantastic; to have named it would have been defining it too clearly, and she does not want the boundaries of Orsinia to be well-defined.

      2. "A Citizen of Mondath," Foundation #4(1973):22.

      3. Ibid., pp 22-23.  For another account of Le Guin's unsuccessful attempts to publish her Orsinian tales, and of her shift to science fiction, see Vonda McIntyre, "Ursula K. Le Guin: 'Using the Language with Delight,'" Encore (Portland) 1(April/May 1977): 6-7.

      4. "Folksong from the Montayna Province," Prairie Poet (Charleston, Ill.), Fall 1959, p 75, and "An die Musik," Western Humanities Review 15(1961):247-58, are Le Guin's first published poem and first published story.

      5. (US 1975 vii+303), p vii.

      6. Le Guin, personal correspondence, March 7, 1977.

      7. Eleanor Cameron, apparently on the basis of information supplied by Le Guin, writes that "almost all of what [Le Guin] wrote before publication was fantasy in the style of Isak Dinesen's tales or Austin Tappen Wright's Islandia" ("High Fantasy: A Wizard of Earthsea," Horn Book 47[1971]:131).  Le Guin herself says "I read Islandia first at 13 [Le Guin was 13 when Islandia first appeared in 1942] and so of course its influence is generic in all my work" (personal correspondence, September 15, 1976).  Even a cursory glance at both Islandia and The Left Hand of Darkness would reveal the extent of the influence.

      8. See Hugh Seton-Watson, The "Sick Heart" of Modern Europe: The Problem of the Danubian Lands (US 1975), and Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, trans Willard R. Trask (US 1954 xii+195), pp 139-62.  I am indebted to Robert Galbreath for referring me to Eliade's phrase.

      9. Orsinian Tales (US 1976 viii+179), p. 157. Subsequent references are to this edition and are indicated parenthetically.

      10. That presumably objective historical narratives are also profoundly poetic is the thesis of Hayden White's Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (US 1973).

      11. The best treatment of the Romantic "circuituous journey" is M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (US 1971 550p), pp 141-324.

      12. Moulds of Understanding: A Pattern of Natural Philosophy, ed. Gary Werskey (UK 1976), esp. pp 221ff. Le Guin knows Needham's work.

      13. Le Guin expresses her convictions about the fundamental order of nature and imagination in "The Crab Nebula, the Paramecium, and Tolstoy," Riverside Quarterly 5(1972):89-96.

      14. The Left Hand of Darkness (US 1969; here Ace pb 1976 xvi+304), p 1. Subsequent references are indicated parenthetically.

      15. (US 1966; here Ace pb nd [1972] 136p), p 5.

      16. Les Systèmes socialistes, 2 vols (Paris 1902-03), II, 332. My translation. For knowledge of this anecdote I am indebted to Bertell Ollmann, Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, 2nd ed (UK 1976), p 3.

      17. "The Magic Art and the Evolution of Words: Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy," Mosaic 10(Winter 1977):148f.

      18. For Le Guin's comments in binary thinking and "the dualism of value that destroys us," see "Is Gender Necessary?" Aurora: Beyond Equality, ed. Vonda MIntyre and Susan Anderson (US 1976 222p), pp 138-39; and Charles Bigelow and J. McMahon, "Science Fiction and the Future of Anarchy: Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin," (Portland) Oregon Times, December 1974, pp 24-29, where Le Guin says "if science fiction has sort of a moral usefulness it is just exactly that. It's just to shake people out of ruts of thinking [i.e. binary thinking], which tend to be prejudices" (p 28).

      19. "The Vivisector," Science Fiction Review #20(1977):37.

      20. "Sisters and Science Fiction," The Little Magazine 10(Spring-Summer, 1976):89.

      21. I am using the word "complementary" in the same way Niels Bohr does (see Gerald Holton, "The Roots of Complementarity," Daedalus 99[1970]:1015-55), and I am referring to the philosophy of internal relations discussed in Ollmann, Alienation (see note 16 above).

     Pareto's bird and mouse are internally related parts of a whole, as are the complementary Chinese concepts Yin and Yang. These are concepts, not independent entities: one cannot exist without the other, any more than reality can exist without fantasy and vice versa. And "the concept, which some would see as the sign-unit for whatever is comprised under it, has from the beginning been instead the product of dialectical thinking in which everything is always that which it is, only because it becomes that which it is not" (Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming [US 1972], p 15).

      22. "A Citizen of Mondath" (see note 2 above) p 22.

      23. Le Guin, personal correspondence, March 7, 1977.

      24. Le Guin is likely referring to Orsinia's brief period of political independence in "A Week in the Country" when she says that Stefan Fabbre, born in 1939, was "born in jail" (116); Stefan's grandfather, the Stefan Fabbre of "Brothers and Sisters," and his father, have "known other houses" (115). Joachim Bret, "born outside prison" (121), i.e., before Nazi domination, has "German numbers, out of date" (121) tatooed on his arm, indicating that he spent some time in a Nazi concentration camp.

      25. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed, s.v. "karst topography."

      26. Two essays on landscape and setting in Le Guin's science fiction are Ian Watson, "The Forest as Metaphor for Mind," SFS 2(1975): 231-37, and Elizabeth Cummins Cogell, "Setting as Analogue to Characterization in Ursula Le Guin," Extrapolation 18(1977):131-41.

      Neither Watson nor Cogell refers to landscape painting.  Le Guin says that J. M. W. Turner has probably helped her "make a world out of chaos" more than her literary influences have ("A Response to the Le Guin Issue," SFS 3[1976]:46).  Turner was influenced by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French painters of the paysage moralisé like Claude, Poussin, and Watteau.  See Le Guin's story about a landscape painter, "The Eye Altering," The Altered I, ed. Lee Harding (Australia 1976 x+131), pp 108-17.

      27. "Is Gender Necessary?" (see note 17 above), p 131.  Le Guin's full statement merits quotation: "The fact is that the real subject of the book is not feminism or sex or gender or anything of the sort; as far as I can see, it is a book about betrayal and fidelity."

      28. Collected Shorter Poems 1927-195755 (US 1966), pp 238-41.

      29. Le Guin refers to Auden as perhaps the only twentieth-century poet with enough science to bridge the gap between Lord Snow's Two Cultures from the side of the humanists ("The Crab Nebula" [see note 13 above], p 95).  Le Guin has reservations about Auden's Christianity, though; see her poem "The Entrance of Mr. Audiot and Mr. Elen Into Heaven," Nimrod 5(Fall, 1960): 15-16.  "In Praise of Limestone" appeared first in Horizon, July 1948, pp 1-3, and then in Auden's Nones (US 1951). Le Guin wrote the first Orsinian tale in 1951.

      30. Le Guin lists "Rilke's one novel" (Die Aufzeichnungen Malte Laurids Brigge) as a part of "the tradition into which I fit by disposition and choice" ("The View In," A Multitude of Visions, ed. Cy Chauvin [US 1975]), p 6.  In her "Response to the Le Guin Issue," she lists Rilke as one of the poets who have influenced her (p 46).  According to Le Guin's mother, Theodora Kroeber, she introduced Rilke to her father in the late fifties (Alfred Kroeber: A Personal Configuration [US 1970] p 261).  Le Guin has published translations of six of Rilke's French poems in Mr. Cogito (Forest Grove, Ore.) 1(Winter, 1975):8-13.  There are some astonishingly clear echoes of Rilke's Tenth Duino Elegy in The Farthest Shore, and Rilke may have helped Le Guin invent the Orsinian Karst.  Schloss Duino, near Trieste, where Rilke conceived the Duino Elegies, is on the edge of the Adriatic Karst.  Sonnet xi in Part 2 of Sonnets to Orpheus is about the Karst.  For Rilke's influence on Auden, see Monroe K. Spears, The Poetry of W.H. Auden (US 1968), pp 141-42.

      31. "Rilke in English," The New Republic, September 6, 1939, pp 135-36.

      32. The Poetry of W.H. Auden, p 142.

      33. Algol #21(1973):12.

      34. For the biographical facts, see Theodora Kroeber, Alfred Kroeber (see note 30 above), pp 139-42.

     I am not suggesting that the Egideskar family is an exact photographic reproduction of the Kroeber family, any more than I would argue that Shevek in The Dispossessed is a realistic portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer.  Le Guin has used the same distancing techniques in "Imaginary Countries" that she uses throughout Orsinian Tales.  Besides shifting her parents from California to Orsinia and transforming them into a baron and a baroness, she reduces the number of children from four to three, and adds Josef Brone so that the tale has a character who can contribute an outside perspective on the family (most of the tale is told through his point of view).  Kishamish, Theodora Kroeber explains, got its name when "Karl, the youngest of the boys, was in his mythmaking period in imitation of Greek and Norse myths.  [He] saw the two nearer knolls as being Thor and Kishamish (the latter an invented giant), the two recumbent after a fight to the finish: hence the name Kishamish's Place" (p 140).  Le Guin is still in her myth-making period.

     Nor am I suggesting that any of this biographical information accounts for the aesthetic qualities that make "Imaginary Countries" and Orsinian Tales worthwhile reading experiences.  I am sympathetic with the position on biographical approaches taken by Karl Kroeber (a professor of English at Columbia), but I certainly do not accept his extreme statement of that position: "to know these [biographical] sources is to know nothing of significance about the stories as stories.  Bad stories often are raw biography.  Literary art consists in transforming one kind of reality, that of physical experience, into another kind of reality, that of literary experience" ("Sisters and Science Fiction" [see note 20 above], p 87).  It does not necessarily follow from this that raw biography is bad art; in any case, "Imaginary Countries" is not raw biography.  Take, for example, these two descriptions:


The Kishamish guestbook kept during those years [the thirties] can be read as a roster of graduate students in anthropology stopping by, to and from the field; of California Indians and other Indians; of visiting writers and scholars; of the children's friends; of family.  Among the names are those who stayed for days or weeks and whose repeated names tell the story of the circle of intimacy which completed itself there -- very California Indian, very Kishamishian. [Alfred Kroeber, p 142]

All summer in tides and cycles the house had been full or half full of visitors, friends of the children, friends of the baroness, friends, colleagues and neighbors of the baron, duck-hunters who slept in the disused stable since the spare bedrooms were full of Polish historians, ladies with broods of children the smallest of whom fell inevitably into the pond about this time of the afternoon.  No wonder it was so still, so autumnal now: the rooms vacant, the pond smooth, the hills empty of dispersing laughter. [Orsinian Tales, pp 174-75]

     Having placed these two passages together, we can see more clearly the way Le Guin uses Rilkean Dinge and landscape to create atmosphere and meaning.  The shifts in her passage from fullness and activity to emptiness and stillness, and from the house to the hills beyond, is similar to the landscape painting we find not only in Orsinian Tales, but also in the Earthsea trilogy, where Le Guin often pauses in her narration to direct our gaze toward distant hills and the horizon.

     Although both Le Guin's passage and her mother's are elegiac, neither can be reduced to the other, nor can either be reduced to the raw experience that stands behind each of them.  Both are works of art, but they are different genres: biography and fiction.  One is written by a woman who was an adult when she lived the experiences she describes; the other is written by a woman who was a child when she experienced what she describes. Like Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," "Imaginary Countries" is "emotion recollected in tranquillity." Where Le Guin's mother emphasizes the circle of intimacy at Kishamish, Le Guin evokes the mood and atmosphere of endings as moments in "tides and cycles" at Asgard. The imminent change from summer to autumn and winter is analogous to other changes in the tale, personal and public. Zida is on the verge of passing from childhood into an awareness of time and season, and Mitteleuropa in 1935 is on the verge of total war between totalitarian superpowers. Ragnarok55 is a game played both by the Egideskar family and the nations of Europe.

      35. Letter to Joseph Cottle, March 7, 1815, quoted by Abrams (see note 11 above), p 271.

      36. If so, the baron's history may turn out to be like E.R. Curtius' European Literature in the Latin Middle Ages, which, Curtius explains, was conceived in the thirties and intended to serve the idea of humanism in the face of "the German catastrophe . . . it grew out of a concern for the preservation of Western culture" ([US 1963], p viii).

      37. Christina Robb insinuates this in her review of Orsinian Tales:


Le Guin's political fairy tales are unbeatable in their mode. The second and last of these tales tell the story of civilization: from the local baron in "The Barrow" who sacrifices a Christian priest to Odne because his wife's labor is taking too long, to the refined and professional baron in "Imaginary Countries" who names his summer house Asgard to play along with his children's sunny infatuation with the Norse god fad in 1935. The year tells that story, Europe's and ours ("Political fairy tales where the princes are charming," The Boston Globe, December 10, 1976, p 36).

     I am indebted to Mr. John Fleming of Merrimack College for sending me this review.

      38. "A View In" is an essay in which Le Guin explains why she writes science fiction (see note 30 above), and A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else (UK 1976 94p) is the British edition of Le Guin's juvenile novella Very Far Away From Anywhere Else (US 1976 vi+89). Owen Griffiths, the narrator and principal character, has invented an imaginary country named "Thorn": "a very small country, on an island in the South Atlantic, only about sixty miles across, and a very long way from anywhere else. The wind blew all the time in Thorn" (US ed, p 51). When Owen's friend Natalie Field helps him to take imaginary countries seriously (she introduces him to the Brontes' imaginary countries), he begins to escape the ideology of consumerism and mediocrity that smothers his parents in a fog. The wind on Thorn means the same thing to Owen that the breeze in Book I of The Prelude means to Wordsworth: freedom.

     Just as Owen discovers an Archimedes point in his imaginary country, Le Guin and the baron discover Archimedes points in their imaginary countries. The baron uses myth and history to discover his, and his creator uses myth and history along with the estrangement techniques of science fiction to discover hers.

      39. "I grew up," Le Guin said in an interview, "reading the Norse myths and they have always meant incomparably more to me than the Greek or any other. They are in fact part of my 'childhood lore,' they shaped my imagination; to me the reality of Ragnarok lies on the same profound, subrational level as the Crucifixion or the Resurrection lies for one brought up as a Christian. One may no longer 'believe in' it, but it remains a basic symbol, a mode of one's imagination — both a limiting, and an enabling mode" (Ursula K. Le Guin: An Interview," Luna Monthly #63[1976]:3). My emphasis.

      40. (US 1966; here Ace pb 1974 124p), p 66. My emphasis.

      41. Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors, trans. Richard and Clara Winstork (US 1978), quoted by V.S. Pritchett, "The Incurable," New York Review of Books, February 23, 1978, p 4. For Le Guin's own remarks on these matters, see her "Introduction" to LHD (Ace pb 1976), pp xi-xvi. See also for her thoughts on the artist's obligation to tell the truth, her essay "The Child and the Shadow," The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 32(1975):139-48, and her "Escape Routes," Galaxy, December 1974, pp 40-44.

      42. In the discussion of "An die Musik" that follows, I cite the text as first published (see note 4 above). When Le Guin revised it for inclusion in Orsinian Tales, she removed most of the allusions to Romantic poets and musicians.

      43. See John Huntington, "Public and Private Imperatives in Le Guin's Fiction," SFS 2(1975):237-42.

      44. The subject of music and musicians in Le Guin's fiction deserves extended treatment.  Musicians are important characters in two Orsinian Tales, "A Week in the Country" and "An die Musik," and also in several other stories by Le Guin, science fiction and otherwise: "Schroedinger's Cat," Universe 5, ed Terry Carr (US 1974 viii+209), pp 31-40; "The New Atlantis," The New Atlantis and Other Novellas of Science Fiction, ed Robert Silverberg (US 1975 viii+180), pp 57-86; Very Far Away from Anywhere Else (see note 38 above); and "Gwilan's Harp," Redbook, May 1977, pp 229-30.  Le Guin's musicians often appear paired with scientists or in a scientific setting: Kasimir Augeskar, a bassist, is with a microbiologist, Stefan Fabbre; the narrator of "Schroedinger's Cat" gets involved in quantum mechanics; the composer Natalie Field is with Owen Griffiths, who wants to be a psychobiologist; and Belle, a violist, is married to a mathematician and physicist.  In these pairings, Le Guin is, of course, exploring the relationships between art and science, two forms of creativity that are for her complementary and interdependent.  Shevek, a scientist, tells Salas, a musician, that music is "the noblest form of social behavior we're capable of" (TD §6).

     It would certainly be worthwhile to explore the ways Le Guin has used musical forms and techniques to structure her fiction and to texture her prose style. Rafail Nudelman's "An Approach to the Structure of Le Guin's SF," SFS 2(1975): 210-20, opens with an epigraph from Thomas Mann: "I felt that the book itself had become what it treated of, i.e., a musical construct," but he does not pursue this idea in detail. Most of Le Guin's fiction is not as rigorously musical as Mann's Doctor Faustus. Whatever musical structure there is in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," subtitled "Variations on a Theme by William James," is probably only loosely metaphorical. Salas' composition The Simultaneity Principle may offer a key to the structure of The Dispossessed: "Five instruments each playing an independent cyclic theme; no melodic causality; the forward process entirely in the relationship of the parts. It makes a lovely harmony" (TD §6). The musical structure and texture of "The New Atlantis" could reward a close look. R.V. Cassill says that Le Guin's "efforts at musicalizing the prose daydream makes it equate somehow with the musical improvisation that Belle performs on her viola.... The story seems to end with the certain uncertainty of a musical statement" (Instructor's Handbook for The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, ed. R.V. Cassill [US 1977], p 129). (Le Guin's use of colors in the Atlantean passages could as easily be explored in terms of landscape painting.) It might be, then, that Le Guin's use of musical forms is comparable to Eliot's use of Beethoven's quartets in The Four Quartets, or to Hesse's use of Mozart's sonatas in Steppenwolf. Le Guin is aware of the "tension between the musical structure of her work and the political content" (John Boe, personal correspondence, reporting a conversation with Le Guin).

      45. "The Crab Nebula" (see note 13 above), p 96.

      46. Neue Gesamtausgabe der Werke und Schriften, 4 vols (Stuttgart 1957), I, 294. My translation. "Es wandelt, was wir schauen" is one of five lyrics grouped under the title "Der Umkehrende," "Turning Back" or "Return." Although Le Guin does not believe in Eichendorff's God, the idea/image of return is at the very center of her thought, as is the idea of change. Return is the movement of the Tao, and change is of course what the I Ching is all about. Here is a point where Le Guin's roots in the Romantics, especially the continental Romantics, and her interest in Chinese philosophy, intersect and merge.

      47. This image is recycled in "Schroedinger's Cat," a science fiction story written more than a decade after "An die Musik."  After the narrator lifts the lid from "Rover's" box and they discover that the cat is no longer in it,


Rover neither barked, nor fainted, nor cursed, nor wept, He really took it very well.
"Where is the cat?" he asked at last.
"Where is the box?"
"Where's here?"
"Here is now."
"We used to think so," I said, "but really we should use larger boxes."
He gazed about him in mute bewilderment, and did not flinch even when the roof of the house was lifted off just like the lid of a box, letting in the unconscionable, inordinate light of the stars. [Universe 5, pp 39-40]

Like Ladislas Gaye, the narrator of "Schroedinger's Cat" is a musician (as well as being a writer), and both stories are about certainty, uncertainty, and hope.

      48. That Le Guin should have chosen Lotte Lehmann to be the vehicle of Gaye's epiphany is but one instance among many in this remarkable tale of the way each element resonates in all the others.  Lotte Lehmann, born in Prussia in 1888, became "one of the most eminent lyric-dramatic sopranos of her time" (Richard Capell, "Lotte Lehmann," Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, V, 116).  Lehmann was a product of the culture of Mitteleuropa, a culture Le Guin eulogizes in Orsinian Tales, a culture Lehmann gave voice to: "The lyric stage of the time knew no performance more admirably accomplished; it seemed to embody a civilization, the pride and elegance of old Vienna, its voluptuousness, chastened by good manners, its doomed beauty" (Capell, p 116).  Lehmann was barred by the Nazis from singing in Germany, and when Hitler took Austria, she emigrated to the USA.

Lehmann's attituide toward the relationship between music and politics is consonant with Le Guin's in "An die Musik." In her autobiography, Lehmann writes,


I cannot serve politics. I can only serve that which always has been and still is the mission of my life. I cannot paint political boundaries on the measureless ways of the art-world. I will not, and cannot probe whether the people to whom I give my art are good or bad, believers or unbelievers; nor does it interest me to know what race they belong, or to what politics they subscribe. . . . God put music into my heart and a voice into my throat. I serve Him when I serve music. ["Postscript, May 1938," Midway in My Song (US 1938), p vii]

Le Guin says that Lehmann "has been my favorite woman singer for many years. . . . She ended many concerts--and the last of her career--by singing An die Musik" (personal correspondence, September 9, 1977).  Lehmann's performance of "An die Musik" may be heard on Camden 1015 (S.S. Prawer, "Discography," The Penguin Book of Lieder [UK 1964], p 195).  Although this recording is just about impossible to find, one really ought to hear the song to appreciate fully Le Guin's tale.

      49. The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder, trans. George Bird and Richard Stokes (US 1977), p 53, slightly altered to conform to Schubert's text.  See Franz Schubert, Complete Works, 19 vols (US 1965), XV, 86-87.

      50. In her "Response to the Le Guin Issue," Le Guin says that Schubert, along with Beethoven and Turner, may have helped her "make a world out of chaos" more than literary influences (see note 25 above).  If music does for Le Guin what it did for Schober and Schubert, i.e., bear her to a better world and open to her a heaven of better times, then it is an integral factor in her utopian visions.  Music  does this for Belle and Rose in "The New Atlantis" and for Owen Griffiths in Very Far Away From Anywhere Else.  If art has this liberating power for Le Guin — and in her "Author's Introduction" to The Word for World is Forest, she says that if she had to seek a single motive for writing, she would use Emily Bronte's word "liberty" to define it ([UK 1977 128p], p 6) — then she is part of the Romantic tradition which includes Schiller and Shelley and Marcuse, a tradition which values art for its power to negate alienation, fragmentation, and reification, and to generate utopian possibilities.

      51. "In Memory of W.B. Yeats (d. Jan. 1939)," Collected Shorter Poems (see note 27 above), pp 142, 143.  See also Auden's "The Public v. the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats," Partisan Review 6(1939):46-51, for Auden's thoughts in prose on the relationship between Yeats' art and his politics.  Evaluations of Le Guin's politics will have  to proceed along similarly cautious lines, and will have to be careful about claiming her for a particular political position, as some of the essays in the Le Guin issue of SFS do.

      52. See Walter A. Strauss, Descent and Return: The Orphic Theme in Modern Literature (US 1971).

      53. My discussion of Le Guin's artistic journeys is partially indebted to Susan Wood's excellent essay "Discovering Worlds: The Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin," Voices for the Future, vol 2, ed Thomas D. Clareson (US forthcoming in 1978).  I am grateful to Ms Wood for sending me a copy of her MS.

      54. Quoted by J.B. Leishman, "Introduction," Duino Elegies, trans. J.B. Leishman and Stephen  Spender (US 1939 130p), p 15.  Auden quotes this passage in his review of Duino Elegies, and adds these comments:


This . . . is not to be dismissed with the cheery cry "defeatism." It implies not a denial of political action, but rather the realization that if the writer is not to harm both others and himself, he must consider, and very much more humbly and patiently than he has been doing, what kind of person he is, and what may be his real function. When the ship catches fire, it seems only natural to rush importantly to the pumps, but perhaps one is only adding to the general confusion and panic: to sit still and pray seems selfish and unheroic, but it may be the wisest and most helpful course. ["Rilke in English," (see note 31 above), p 135]

     Le Guin has had to make these choices.  With The Word for World is Forest, she rushed to the pumps, and has regretted it ever since, and hopes never to do it again.  She would not, like Auden, pray, but she might meditate.  That would be in keeping with the quietist ethic of Taoism, wu wei, which Le Guin translates as "action through stillness" ("Introduction to the 1978 Edition," Planet of Exile [US 1978 xvi+140], p ix).

      55. Quoted by J.B. Leishman, "Introduction," Sonnets to Orpheus, trans. J.B. Leishman (UK 1936), p 23.

      56. The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s (US 1977 430p), p 353. Hynes's account of "Auden Country" bears at a number of points on Le Guin's fiction of the sixties and early seventies. The historical pressures on Auden in the thirties and those on Le Guin in the late sixties have probably made it necessary for both writers to invent imaginary countries.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I would like to thank Mr. Jeffrey Levin, Le Guin's bibliographer, for his help in finding some of Le Guin's more ephemeral publications, and I am especially grateful for Ms Le Guin's willingness to answer my queries.